Kaye’s Take: How David Njoku’s new deal impacts Cowboys’ Dalton Schultz, new Vikings regime’s approach, and more

This week's Kaye's Take features analysis on the Vikings' rebuild, the Patriots' mystery offense, and more NFL news and rumors.

The NFL business season is largely in the books, and OTAs are underway. With teams now focused on their current depth charts, Pro Football Network’s Lead NFL Writer Mike Kaye gives his latest installment of Kaye’s Take on a trio of topics surrounding the latest NFL news and rumors, including David Njoku’s massive contract extension, the Minnesota Vikings’ under-the-radar rebuild, and the New England Patriots’ mysterious offensive game plan.

NFL news and rumors: David Njoku receives massive contract extension

This past Friday, ahead of Memorial Day Weekend, the Cleveland Browns made another eye-opening deal, signing tight end David Njoku to a four-year, $56.75 million contract extension. Njoku, who received the franchise tag earlier this offseason, received $28 million guaranteed, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. According to NFL.com, Njoku now has the fourth-highest per year average salary among tight ends.

Njoku’s deal drew instant criticism due to his lack of production throughout his rookie deal. Through five seasons, Njoku, a 2017 first-round pick, has produced 148 catches for 1,754 yards and 15 touchdowns. Throughout his tenure in Cleveland, he’s mostly been used as a secondary tight end, and at one point, wanted out of the organization.

However, with GM Andrew Berry in charge of a massive transition offseason that saw the Browns trade for QB Deshaun Watson and wideout Amari Cooper, and say goodbye to franchise stalwarts JC Tretter and Jarvis Landry, Njoku appears to be a big part of Cleveland’s future.

The Browns cut Austin Hooper and tagged Njoku in March, making the decision to extend Njoku a foregone conclusion. With the tag and Hooper’s departure as leverage, Njoku’s agent took advantage and squeezed Berry for a phenomenal deal. That said, on paper, this is a massive overpay. Njoku has produced just 55 catches for 688 yards and six touchdowns over the past two seasons, so this deal is based on the projection of what he will accomplish with Watson at QB.

What does Njoku’s deal mean for Dalton Schultz?

Fellow franchise-tagged tight end, Dalton Schultz of the Dallas Cowboys, is likely salivating over this deal, which is bad news for Jerry Jones.

Just as the Browns did with Watson, Cleveland completely threw out productional value and price precedent for Njoku, which will probably frustrate the rest of the league, again. The Cowboys will be the most immediately heated, as locking up Schultz long-term has become even harder. This is the team that traded away Cooper for the NFL equivalent of a travel thermos because they couldn’t afford him.

The reason why this situation is tricky for Schultz is that he has outproduced Njoku pretty vividly. After a fairly forgettable first two seasons in Dallas, Schultz exploded in 2020 following the departure of Jason Witten.

Nov 25, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz (86) in action during the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Las Vegas Raiders at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

He produced 63 catches for 615 yards and four touchdowns. Last season, he followed up his breakout year with 78 catches for 808 yards and eight touchdowns. To put it simply, Schultz had better numbers in 2021 than Njoku had in the past three years combined.

So, Schultz — who is a day younger than Njoku and has a season less of wear and tear — is primed to cash in with a new moneyline set by the Browns. With the Cowboys’ cap situation, they could figure out a way to make a backloaded deal work. However, they also could be forced to wait out the year and franchise tag Schultz again, which would be a frustrating outcome. Schultz has leverage, youth, and ascending production on his side.

With teams routinely passing on tight ends in the first round, and the franchise tag only becoming more expensive, Schultz could be the next market-setter at the position, whether it’s this offseason or the next.

Kaye’s Take: Why Vikings’ under-the-radar, gradual rebuild is a smart approach

The Vikings sent longtime franchise bosses Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman off to sea this offseason. They then reloaded with the youthful tandem of GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and HC Kevin O’Connell.

And instead of immediately ripping the ship apart, as most new-aged brasses do, Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell decided to play the long game. They signed franchise QB Kirk Cousins to a contract extension, held onto veteran Adam Thielen, and didn’t rush to unload the defensive pieces from the Zimmer era.

O’Connell and Adofo-Mensah clearly want to get a feel for the group they inherited. The Vikings were in playoff contention throughout the Zimmer-Spielman partnership, so instead of tearing down their foundation, the new brain trust is looking for better ways to use their talent. While that might not immediately excite the fan base, it’s the prudent move to make as they transition into a new era.

The Vikings didn’t really attack free agency. Instead, they chose to maneuver in the draft. Instead of forcing the issue with their set picks, the Vikings made two huge trade backs with division rivals, the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers, to infuse more youth into their roster and take away opportunities for widespread growth from their foes.

The Vikings made seven trades during draft weekend and still ended up with 10 selections. The organization added a lot of young talent to pile on top of the group that was already in place. Smart organizations find ways to utilize the ecosystem they’ve acquired while building their new one.

While tear-downs are fun for Madden franchise mode, the Vikings are taking the proper and patient approach to make sure they can win early and for the foreseeable future.

Figuring out the man behind the curtain for the Patriots’ offense, and why it shouldn’t be Joe Judge…

The Patriots are known for their gamesmanship. They tend to do everything they can to gain an advantage (sometimes to disastrous results), and their process with replacing former OC Josh McDaniels has been no different.

The Patriots aren’t naming an offensive coordinator publicly, though it has been noted that former New York Giants head coach Joe Judge and former Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia will be involved with that side of the ball, despite being known for working in other phases throughout the majority of their careers. Sure, head coaches handle bits of everything, but Judge is known for special teams, and Patricia is known for defense.

Judge, in particular, seems like a wild choice to have anything to do with offense following his laughable two-year tenure in New York. Judge, who was supposed to be an old-school tough guy, failed to cultivate a strong offensive line in the Meadowlands and did very little in the way of providing positive growth for QB Daniel Jones. The Giants went 10-23 during Judge’s tenure, Jones is still an enigma entering his fourth season, and New York scored over 30 points just once in 33 games.

Mac Jones, who was surprisingly efficient as a rookie, will now need to take notes from Judge, whose time overseeing a franchise led to putrid offensive results. Putting Judge in charge of an offense is like asking an offensive line coach to coordinate defense (sorry, Juan Castillo) or asking Josh Groban to release a rap album.

While Patricia isn’t an ideal option, he can at least come with the unique perspective of understanding of what the opposing defensive coordinator is likely to look for and call. Either way, this is an awkward situation, and one that will continue to gain scrutiny, especially as the mystery of the Patriots’ Wizard of O continues.

Mike Kaye is the Lead NFL Reporter for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter: @mike_e_kaye.

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